The Creamy Difference Between Butter Chicken And Chicken Tikka Masala

There are so many delectable Indian dishes, including dal, biryani, vindaloo, and more. Still, many diners opt for such dependable dishes as butter chicken or chicken tikka masala. Both have luscious textures and vibrant, gently spiced tomato gravies. Nevertheless, you might be wondering about the differences between these popular chicken dishes. 

The velvety, creamy texture of butter chicken's tomato sauce comes from butter — and not an insignificant amount. Recipes usually call for two to three tablespoons of butter. The creamy texture is enhanced by around 100 milliliters (one-third cup) of heavy cream and, sometimes, cashews. The butter and the cream combine to make a silky sauce that clings to the marinated chunks of chicken. 

With a thicker, chunkier cream-based sauce with onions, chicken tikka masala is not as smooth. It also tends to be spicier than butter chicken. The heat, however, is tamed by the cream. Without the butter, though, the sauce is not as velvety.

Chicken tikka masala has an uncertain origin story

Legend has it that chicken tikka masala was created (purely by accident) in Scotland by a Bangladeshi chef. After a customer complained of dry chicken tikka, the chef fixed it by dousing the chicken in a spiced tomato soup. However, others are firm in their belief that it's a Punjabi dish invented in the early1970s. Still, some reference a recipe for Shahi Chicken Masala in a 1961 cookbook of Indian recipes. Regardless of its provenance, British people feel so strongly about tikka masala that it's the unofficial national dish of Britain and considered a symbol of the U.K.'s multiculturalism.

A riff on butter chicken, tikka masala is spicy, though not necessarily a hot dish. The masala spice mix used in tikka masala features spices like coriander, cumin, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon, amongst others. The chicken, which is marinated in yogurt, garlic, and ginger, is usually grilled or baked, which sometimes lends a smoky flavor to the gravy.

Butter chicken is the older cousin of chicken tikka masala

Butter chicken (Murgh Makani) is a curry-based chicken dish from northern India. The origins are almost as murky as those of chicken tikka masala because the descendants of two men claim to have invented it. One story holds that a chef in Delhi needed to keep tandoori chicken pieces tender and juicy, so he made a curry sauce. Thus, butter chicken was born. The other is that a restaurant partner thought it up to extend a small amount of tandoori chicken. We're just grateful it exists.

An ideal dish for using up leftover tandoori chicken, butter chicken is known for being slightly sweet and gently spiced. It owes its distinct flavor to a spice called Kasoori Methi (dried Fenugreek leaves). The woodsy, floral flavor balances the potential heaviness of the dish.

You should think twice before eating butter chicken since some recipes pack 600 calories per serving. There are ways you can make it healthier. Instead of adding cream to the sauce, you can opt for fat-free yogurt and sautè the chicken pieces in a little olive oil or use coconut milk to thicken the sauce.